Why do some food writers equate wine and pot?

wine_bongIn “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World,” Michael Pollan traces the relationship of humans and four plants: the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. When watching the new PBS documentary based on the book, I was surprised to hear Pollan compare pot and wine. To the tape:

Though marijuana is not fully legal [in Amsterdam], it can be sold and smoked in coffee shops, drawing tourists from around the world. You can walk down the street and catch the whiff of marijuana smoke coming out of bars–cafes as they’re called–and you can choose exactly what kind of experience you want. [voiceover from clerk: “More dreamy”…] You look at this scene and you marvel at it. It’s no different than people sitting around and enjoying their glass of wine or cigarettes.

Apparently American elementary schools aren’t the only ones who equate wine and pot. Yes, marijuana and wine are intoxicants. But there are big differences, even aside from one being legal and the other not (well, maybe not for long). Even though there are many varieties of marijuana and one Colorado newspaper may soon hire a marijuana critic, the different varieties all appear (as I found out from some googling, ahem) to create intoxication to a greater or lesser degree, faster or slower.

While intoxication is, of course, possible with wine, it is not always why a lot of wine enthusiasts lift a glass. Imagine a professional wine taster doing a ganbei and that taster wouldn’t make it very far in his career, let alone the day. Or a food-wine pairing that ended with slumping into one’s soup. Wine is not Everclear.

While certainly some wines have dialed up the alcohol in recent years, there has been consumer pushback recently with this style of wine and lower-alcohol wines have become more popular (Kermit Lynch, a retailer in Pollan’s own Berkeley, recently sold a mixed case of wines marketed as lower alcohol).

Pollan is, surprisingly, an unkind bud to wine. I guess he joins Adam Gopnik in the “whoda thunk?” group of food writers in their views on wine. Gopnik once wrote in The New Yorker: “Remarkably, nowhere in wine writing, including Parker’s and Echikson’s, would a Martian learn that the first reason people drink wine is to get drunk.”

Should food writers see wine as food?

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18 Responses to “Why do some food writers equate wine and pot?”

  1. I haven’t seen the documentry. But might it be the case that Pollan has a pro-pot agenda rather than an anti-wine agenda?

  2. Tyler, maybe you should just stop dancing around the topic and smoke a bowl or two already?


  3. I don’t agree with lumping wine in with what is considered (right or wrong) an illegal drug. But in a world with good tap water, wine’s #1 use is as alcohol. Some gets you intoxicated slower or faster, and it can be paired with food so it is quite mild. But the alcohol does have a desired effect.

  4. I’m a long time pot/wine head and often I smoke for the flavor and not the buzz. Some tastes way better than others and will put a smile on your face like a smooth wine.

  5. They both have interesting floral qualities, and share similar esters. But that’s about where similarities end. 🙂

    You can’t go to a cannabis tasting and walk away unimpaired. Simply isn’t possible. You can go to a wine tasting and drive home safely, assuming you spit.

    As for me, when I drink wine critically, I can assure you the absolute last thing I want to get is drunk. That’s why God made Russian River Damnation blonde Belgian Ale. To get me tipsy.

  6. As a person who used to love to drink the really big Australian Shirazes and the high-alcohol,port-like Zinfandels, I can say that since switching to more “user-friendly” wines (for me), like Cotes-du-Rhone, lots of Pinot Noir of late, plus Italian reds with food, and then of course Rosés for most of the summer, I gotta tell ya, I’m much preferring the lower alcohol wines these days. Mostly for the sheer fact that I can really enjoy a glass or two without ending up half in the cups for the night! Drinking to get drunk? Ok, sure, even the most elegant Burgundies will do that for ya, but why would you want to go there? So I guess my (long-winded) point is, I don’t see the whole pot and wine as equal buzz-generating intoxicants as a legitimate comparison.

  7. Don’t inhale.

  8. The above should read terpenes, not esters (this nagged my sub conscience so much it woke me up out of a dead sleep!).

    Was smokin’ the good stuff earlier, apparently.

  9. There are reasonable comparisons to be made. There are significant differences. I don’t see a problem with the comparison.

    They do best in similar climates. They respond to intensive cultivation.
    Quality calls for many skills and even talent from the grower/producer. The producer is most important to quality. There are many varieties providing a variety of experiences. They are both consumed as a sensory and sensual experience. They are consumed in similar settings for the primary purpose of relaxation.

    However the effects are very different. Alcohol can reach a toxicity level that cannabis can not and does not reach. Tolerance to cannabis
    allows for ingestion with little or no meaningful impairment.
    I have know chronic users with impeccable driving records who performed their jobs well too. Fellow employees had no idea that coworker was using. As intake increases, alcohols effects are far more debilitating and impairing.

    As far issues of legality, cannabis prohibition, if you learn the history, came about under pretty indefensible, and even fraudulent circumstances. I cringe whenever someone cites for the purposes of argument, “well one is legal and one isn’t”, as if that means anything.
    Cannabis prohibition was and continues to be a disastrous failure.
    The prohibition policy model, no matter how well intentioned, doesn’t work. I thought we figured that out already.

  10. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of both every now and then…

  11. Well – I suppose its the “boulevard” vocabulary !
    I remember reading in some boulevard press decades ago : “Soldiers are potential murderers !” .. or ” Men are potential rapists !” … Off course many things are “potentialy” dangerous, but didn´t we all learn – after Paracelsus : “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” Did you know that you can kill yourself with two tablespoons of salt
    ( Sodium Chloride ) ?? According to the boulvard press it would read : Salt kills thousands !! ….. As long as they have something to write about …. ;-))

  12. It seems to me that the great insult here is not that wine and pot can be mentioned together, but in the way they are mentioned.

    The teacher who equates them to his or her students is essentially branding both as “bad”, and, of course, in so doing, is also branding most parents as irresponsible. In that regard, the comments are both Prohibitionist and antagonistic. “Pot is illegal and thus bad for you, and wine is just like pot so it is bad for you and should be illegal” is their misguided, misanthropic message.

    The same is true for Pollan and for the Gopnik–although for different reasons. Pollan, as suggested, has a pro-cannabis agenda. Gopnik is simply stupid and insulting. Serious wine drinkers, for the most part, enjoy wine for its ability to enhance a meal or setting. Gopnik’s reference to “to get drunk” is an intentionally pejorative choice of words that goes far beyond the relaxing benefits of any alcohol in moderate amounts, and also accuses that intoxication is the goal. People who write things like that make me wonder if they do not have their own personal demons and resulting axes to grind.

  13. After I read Gopnik’s piece on wine I wrote a letter to the New Yorker telling them that I’m available should they seek wine writing but that I can work only between 6 and 8 am, the only hours when I ain’t drunk!

  14. Pollan is pretty clueless when it comes to wine, so I wouldn’t take anything he says personally. I just recalled from his book In Defense of Food – he recommends pairing steak with coffee (!) as an example of how we can eat healthy by following tradition and common sense(apparently coffee inhibits iron absorption, which in turn benefits the heart).

    So, yes, he missed one of the health stories of the decade while just about falling over it. My only question is this: just how much marijuana must he (and his editor) pair with their appetizers to come up with coffee and steak as a perfect, traditional pairing?

  15. When the United States was new, there were those who advocated the development of a wine culture as an antidote to intoxication. Thomas Jefferson explained it like this:

    “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.”

    One of the key decisions leading up to Prohibition was whether it would apply to wine. Wine producers in California didn’t believe until Prohibition passed that wine would be lumped in with other intoxicants. Since then, the law has basically dealt with wine as if the only reason one would consume it was to get drunk.

  16. I think your understanding of the situation can be characterized as saying that Mr. Pollan brought wine down to the base level of marijuana. This can be considered acceptable only because of your mature age and wine-centric viewpoint.

    While you are right that wine enthusiasts do not reach for a glass of wine purely for the intoxication it provides, you are wrong that people smoke weed only for the high it provides. It is not Everclear, as you say. Here in China we would say that wine is not Chinese white liquor (白酒), which is complete filth that people drink purely for the drunk man it turns you into.

    You are saying that marijuana is inhaled (or eaten) purely for the high it provides, a high that is the same whatever type of marijuana you use. This is wrong. While intensive marijuana cultivation and hybridization is a rather recent phenomenon in the world (wine has a much longer and storied past) its goals are not purely for strength and strength alone. Scent, texture, color, weight by volume, and taste are all aspects that can change due to the hybrid you are growing and how you cultivate it. You should also know that different hybrids and varieties of marijuana can provide varying types of highs. Some people say that different types of wine bring on different types of intoxication, but in my experience such differences pale in comparison to the differences in high one can receive by smoking various types of pot.

    Earlier marijuana was always distilled into a stronger substance (i.e., hashish), but in America such practice is very uncommon. Now people want the herb itself, they want to see, smell and taste it so that they can differentiate it from other varieties. This is the same reason why all wine is not turned into cognac and port. While such appreciation of marijuana is a modern development it’s future is, I believe, going to follow along the same path that wine appreciation has followed. Also, the recent upswing in marijuana potency has, like wine, brought about a backlash as people want something less intense. More evidence that people are not smoking pot simply to get as high as possible as quickly as possible. People want to savor what they are ingesting, they want to be able to have it with friends and not go to sleep right away, the same can be said for wine and weed.

    Have you ever sat down with a true marijuana enthusiast? To hear him or her wax poetic about a certain variety of marijuana is almost EXACTLY like listening to a wine critic. Marijuana is not one-note, it is not a simple thing; like wine marijuana (at least the good stuff) brings about a plethora of emotions and sensory delights. Some might say they that both wine critics and marijuana critics are as equally full of hot air, but in fact both have a point.

    You are right that food writers and the like should look to wine as something more than just an intoxicating liquid. At the same time wine writers should not look down on marijuana. Last time I checked it was not wine grapes that were the largest agricultural product of America by monetary value. That record, sir, belongs to marijuana.

    Once you look at the facts it is fairly obvious that marijuana (both the growing/hybridization of it and the consuming of it) is not a passing fad. The recent developments in medical marijuana legalization and decriminalization of the plant in certain areas point towards a future where it will not be illegal. One day we will look back at marijuana prohibition the way we look at the American prohibition of alcohol in the 20s and 30s. To the young people of America (and Europe), of which I include myself, the idea of wine and marijuana being products that can be both be appreciated at the same intellectual level is not an outlandish idea. Of course, once you inhale you cannot spit – so I guess wine has that going for it.

    As an aside, would people care for wine if it contained no alcohol? My guess is no. I think we can all assume that the same could be said for marijuana that doesn’t get you high. This is why food writers talk about wine’s intoxicating value and not simply the taste and smell of a wine – in the end people do drink wine to get drunk and people smoke weed to get high. This doesn’t mean people don’t want to get the best tasting wine or the best tasting pot, it is just one of the many pleasures both provide.

  17. Great post, indeed Useful blog actuallly. Nice timing for me actually as I was studying all this material when stumbling across you 🙂 I will register, keep up the terrific work. Regards

  18. Legality is of no aesthetic consequence. I live in Atlanta, where on Sunday, it is illegal to purchase either.

    *(although, legally, wine may be “served”.)


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